Building beyond their new means

Deakin U tweeted yesterday afternoon that construction of the new law school building in Melbourne is “coming along nicely” and when finished will be the university’s first “leading-edge sustainable building.” Good-o, but announcing this on the day staff met to discuss university plans to save money, lots of money, was not terrific timing.

There’s more in the Mail

In Features

Adrian Barnett (QUT) on how shortcomings in health and medical research are amplified by the COVID-19 crisis.

Peter Goodyear (Uni Sydney) on teaching as design for learning. It is an addition to Contributing Editor Sally Kift’s series on what’s needed now in teaching and learning

Merlin Crossley (UNSW) 2/5 makes the case for eradicating COVID-19 before opening the economy.

Practitioner-experts on building on-line learning communities. 

Going big on micro-credentials

Some universities are adapting to disaster and building market share with micro to short courses. It will earn them elephant-stamps from the feds

ACU seizes an “unlimited opportunity”: Australian Catholic University announces a suite of short-courses, and subject-tasters to, “help Australians upskill or retrain, and to support people and services as our community transitions to new ways of working.”

There are starter-courses in education, public health, sports science and IT, “with the option of transitioning later into a full degree.”

With “additional backing” (it means money) “from the Federal Government’s relief package, the new courses are designed to build key skills in a wide range of areas.”

USQ is expanding access to its UpSkill mini courses, with one free taster from a range of five:   The university launched UpSkill last year, with 18 subjects, now 30 (40 hours over four weeks) at $625 each, (CMM September 16 2019). They aren’t the same as the micro-credential courses targeting people who want to learn a new-job skill while COVID-19 unemployed, which the feds are funding. But they are in the same, sort-of, space (CMM April 14).  Word is USQ also has new products in development that fit the federal model.   

Victoria U opens a cash package for VET training: VU Polytechnic is using Victorian Government support for VET to provide “up-skilling and re-skilling” “including early childhood education, trades, nursing and healthcare.”  The university adds, it will “soon” launch an “initiative that focuses on the required jobs and skills for the west of Melbourne with short, sharp skills acquisition through enhanced digital systems.”

Early adopters:  These three join universities which have already announced approaches in-sympathy with Mr Tehan’s ideas. Uni Canberra, Uni Notre Dame Australia, Uni SA and Swinburne U have short-courses outside formal course structures for people who want to skill-up while they aren’t working.

But why, pray, “elephant stamps?“It’s where the higher education sector is moving. But, we have used this opportunity to be one of the first countries to really put micro-credentialing, or short courses, on the map,” Dan Tehan, Network Ten, April 12 (CMM April 14).

UNSW down $1.5bn by 2022

Management estimates income will be down $600m this year and $450m for both 2021 and ‘22

Vice Chancellor Ian Jacobs announced the projected fall in income in a message to staff yesterday. And even with savings made and anticipated, “it is clear that we will still need to take action in the next few weeks to make further savings this year.”

“We have no alternative to taking the difficult step of standing down some staff in areas where there is no work due to the impact of the government restrictions – and to losing a small number of jobs. I will ensure the minimum possible number of positions are affected during the next few weeks by these regrettable steps,” Professor Jacobs said.

But while there was no word on jobs to go, the vice chancellor did announce a restructure plan. The work will be done by Taskforce 2021+, “to explore the university’s optimal future size and shape and prepare us for a markedly changed higher education landscape.”

It will report in June, “so that action can be taken in the second half of the year to prepare for 2021.”

The Vice Chancellor did not mention the status of the UNSW 2025 plan, in development since 2015. Nor did he provide a date for news on jobs to go.

Uni Sydney specifies savings

In March management thought it needed to save $200m this year. Now it’s $470m

Vice Chancellor Michael Spence tells staff that making the required savings will be spread over this year and next.

Cuts to capex and related spending will save $159m.

But while the long-agreed 2.1 per cent annual salary increase will go ahead, casual staff will be “reviewed,” “to reflect expected student load.”  With a continuing “pause” on hiring this is expected to save $90m.

Lower international student recruiting costs will keep another $23m in the kitty.

Dr Spence adds that, “as we begin to look ahead and consider what a staged return to ‘new normal’ operations might look like, so too are we considering the kind of institution we want to be as we emerge from this crisis. This will be an important conversation for all in our community over the coming weeks and months.”

At least he did not announce a taskforce.

Over-sight of trainers is “regulatory overkill” Claire Field warns


The recent NCVER VET workforce survey report provides the opportunity for a fundamental rethink on teaching and learning

Consider the evidence…

Of people employed as trainers and assessors:

* 52.6 per cent were employed full-time and 47.4 per cent part-time

* 93.3 per cent had a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment or higher-level qualification

* 89.4 per cent had a Certificate III or above as their highest qualification related to their industry or field of training delivery

That is, nine in 10 trainers and assessors hold qualifications relevant to the skills they are teaching and more than nine in 10 hold the required teaching qualification.

These results enable decision makers to change how they interpret the trainer and assessor requirements in the Standards for Registered Training Organisations.

It is regulatory overkill to require detailed mapping of every unit of competency that a trainer teaches against every course they have studied and all the work tasks they have previously undertaken.

We need auditors to focus on the qualifications and experience of those trainers and assessors who do not hold the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and/or a qualification relevant to the skills they are teaching. And where new technology or a major change is introduced to an industry – then providers need to show that their staff have been properly professionally developed.

With half of all trainers and assessors working full-time it is imperative that the focus of the sector’s efforts shifts to trainer and assessor professional development.

On a related note – if you are currently leading a team (in VET or higher education) and want some reassurance on managing the challenges in a COVID-19 world – check out the latest episode of the podcast.

Claire is the host of the ‘What now? What next? Insights into Australia’s tertiary education sector’ podcast.

The (other) campus union says it won’t cop cuts

While the NTEU is negotiating with vice chancellors the CPSU is not for turning

 The NSW branch of the Community and Public Service Union tells members, “the union will oppose any plans to cut professional staff pay rates.”

Assistant state secretary Troy Wright says “before universities go down the route of changing enterprise agreements and mass redundancies, they must look for savings in non-essential expenditure like capital projects, travel costs, executive bonuses and contingent labour.”

He adds the CPSU is “unlikely” to accept university managements “forcing employees into part-time employment” and “will actively oppose” attempts to reduce pay rates for professional staff (who the union represents).

The federal leadership of the National Tertiary Education Union is negotiating with a group of vice chancellors on trade-offs on conditions to protect jobs.


Steven Chown (Monash U) is a new member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. So is Loeske Kruuk (ANU) and Aileen Morton Robinson (RMIT)


Jane Elith (Uni Melbourne) is elected an international member of the (US) National Academy of Science.